Former Nigerian footballer Mercy Joy Akide Udoh (née Akide); born 26 August 1975.

At age five, Mercy began playing football in the sand field of Bundu Waterside, close to Port Harcourt Prisons, with her older brother Seleipiri and younger brother Ipali. She participated in long-distance races at Holy Rosary Secondary School in Port Harcourt when she was 12 years old, competing against senior athletes in the 400-, 800-, and 1500-meter races. Her speed had been noticed when she was a little child. She also won the provincial table tennis championship, but her true passion was soccer.

Mercy earned the nickname “Ske”, which in local parlance meant “skinny”, while playing against boys at Mile 1 in Port Harcourt. Among her many admirers then was a young kid called Chidi Odiah, who is now a full Nigeria international, playing club football with CSKA Moscow.

In consideration of her skills in particular, a group of youth soccer organisers put together a girls’ tournament to select the girls who would become “the Garden City Queens”.

After playing for the Queens for two years and rejecting offers from the rival Larry’s Angels of Port Harcourt, Akide moved from Port Harcourt to Lagos to finish his studies and play soccer with the Jegede Babes under the guidance of Princess Bola Jegede.

CAREER

The Nigerian Women’s League was just being started at the time, and Garden City Queens wasn’t one of the premier squads like Jegede Babes, Ufuoma Babes, or Larry’s Angels. In most of the exhibition games the club played around the state, Akide was the main draw. During her two seasons at the club, she scored nearly five goals on average. Even though the Queens fell 6-1 to Jegede Babes in one of those friendly matches, Akide scored the sole goal for her team.

She so enthralled club owner Princess Bola Jegede that she immediately offered her a spot in her club.

Just as Nigeria was competing in the 1991 Women’s World Cup in China, Akide joined Jegede Babes. For the 1992 season, Akide was transferred to central midfield where she struggled to acclimate due to the already established strike force.

But by the 1993 campaign, she had become the league and Cup’s leading scorer. She scored 16 league goals and an additional 8 Challenge Cup goals. She continued her success into the following campaign, scoring 10 goals in the Challenge Cup and 15 in the league, earning Ismaila Mabo’s call-up for the national team camp. Sadly, her efforts were insufficient to assist Jegede win either title.

Akide, who at this point had acquired the moniker “Marvelous,” set up camp with the Warri-based team Ufuoma Babes, who had won the league and Cup double the previous two years, after returning from the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was going to pay out in the end. Ufuoma won the double thanks to her 17 league goals and 9 Challenge Cup goals.

The first of many titles, it was. She scored 10 Challenge Cup goals and 11 league goals the next season, and Ufuoma Babes continued to rule the domestic league. Even so, Akide won the 1997 award for most goals scored. She led Ufuoma to their fourth straight league and Challenge Cup double with 14 league goals and 8 Challenge Cup goals. In 1998, Ufuoma Babes were deposed by Pelican Stars, who had Akide score a meager 10 league goals and 7 Challenge Cup goals.

Akide played for Pelican Stars for just one season, but it was a successful one in terms of trophies. Even though Akide only scored 9 league goals and 6 Challenge Cup goals, Pelican once more won the double. After an outstanding World Cup performance with the Super Falcons, Akide had secured a scholarship at Milligan College in Tennessee, USA, by the end of the season.

Mercy was invited to camp in 1994 as a result of national coach Ismaila Mabo noticing her two seasons of consistency with Jegede Babes, where she totaled 49 goals in two seasons. She was called back, though, after scoring 17 goals in the league and 9 in the Challenge Cup. Soon after, Mercy made her debut for her country in a World Cup qualifying match in Ibadan against Sierra Leone. Mercy was playing as a winger. She added two goals to it. In the second leg, she added another goal to secure her position on the team. She was a 1999 and 2004 FIFA World All-Star and the first African woman footballer of the year in 2001.

She participated in three FIFA Women’s World Cups for Nigeria and helped the Super Falcons of Nigeria win three AWC championships in 1998, 2000, and 2002. She wed football writer Colin Udoh in her hometown of Port Harcourt in November 2004.

She was one of FIFA’s 15 Ambassadors for Women’s Football in 2005.

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